In the nearly 40-year war that has been the battle over abortion in the United States, liberals have frequently complained about the hypocrisy of those who prostrate themselves before medical clinics and yet fail to turn out for a single state-sanctioned execution or war protest. Those criticisms widened during the last session of the Texas Legislature when the anti-choice contingent threw themselves against all things family planning, including cervical cancer screenings and birth control services at low-income clinics across the state, to score points for their cause.
The unapologetic pile-driving of young women of limited means had many paraphrasing comedian George Carlin circa-1996, who observed that so-called pro-life conservatives “are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. … No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing.”
But there’s another yawning hypocrisy being played out right now in the largely Republican war against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. You can see shades of it in Governor Rick Perry’s willful ignorance on climate change science, his proposed carbon-centric “drill, drill, drill” national energy policy, Texas’ lawsuits against federal efforts to regulate greenhouse gases or tighten air-quality rules, or even the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality censoring references to the troubling pace of sea-level rise in the Gulf of Mexico. All are part and parcel of the same desperate thinking that has allowed the coal-power lobby to claim status — if to nothing else — as a jobs generator.
While utilities across the state have been preparing for inclusion in a “cross-state” air-quality rule that considers one state’s pollution impact on those living in neighboring states, North Texas’ Luminant ignored the drum beat, according to Jim Marston, founding director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Texas office. “They played a game of chicken hoping they wouldn’t get run over,” he said.
It paid off. As the world dances on economic black ice, the coal industry, culpable in tens of thousands of air-pollution-related deaths per year — has succeeded in advancing a rollback on truly life-saving reforms under the Clean Air Act. “Perry says these regulations are ‘job killers,’” Marston said. “The hard science says these emissions are child killers. Children and elderly.”
When announced this summer the EPA said the new regulations would save as many as 1,700 lives per year in Texas starting in 2014. Yet when EPA rules threaten to shut down a coal plant that can’t meet the thresholds protective of the public health, it’s obviously time to shut down the EPA instead. That’s the kind of thinking that led 15 state attorneys general, including Texas’, to sue the EPA over the rule. The problem here is two-fold: not only is coal killing now, the undervaluing of the damage it does is holding back the next energy revolution — a full unveiling of a pollution-free energy infrastructure, what visionary Jeremy Rifkin calls the Third Industrial Revolution (see “Rifkin on San Antonio, the European Union,” September 28, 2011).
Yet when Luminant — already staggering under a deteriorating credit rating and ever-diminishing natural gas prices — threatened to shut down two coal-fired plants and lay off 500 workers, it was the EPA who blinked, setting to work loosening those rules and offering more pollution allowances to Texas utilities. (Someone obviously forgot to tell the jobs-first crowd that the typical pollution-limiting scrubber represents 100 full-time jobs and two years of labor.)
Like our concluding national love affair with tobacco, we’ve known for a long time that coal power isn’t really as cheap as we believe. We destroy mountains and smother valleys and streams to mine it. The pollution the plants give off is an early death sentence for as many as 36,000 U.S. residents annually, and we’ve only just begun to dramatically change the planet’s climate in large part because of the burning of coal. But the soot from coal-fired plants isn’t only clogging lungs and poisoning hearts. Increasingly diabetes and obesity, epidemic in San Antonio and beyond, are implicated. Mice fed a healthy diet in a lab at Ohio State University and exposed to fine-particulate air pollution akin to what exists in urban areas across the United States saw significant increases in their blood sugar, inflammation-related proteins, and fat cells. And that matters to roughly half of those lining up every day to have their prescriptions filled or blood levels checked at the brightly painted Davila Pharmacy on San Antonio’s Westside. That’s how prevalent diabetes is in this neighborhood, according to pharmacy assistant Isabel Salay.
Yet in Washington, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is taking on abortion with one hand while dismantling the Clean Air Act — rules aimed at protecting the born and unborn from smog damage as well as autism-suspect mercury and other air toxics — with the other. The White House estimates two of the bills Cantor has advanced represent a combined 32,000 premature deaths. And here in Texas? How to justify Perry’s pledge to “always err on the side of life” against his campaign against public-health protections?
Clearly the champions of the unborn have morally flatlined. •
Lone Star Green appears monthly in the Current.